Grumpy Old Men

| June/July 2002

  • SmokStak

  • SmokStak

The following comes from a recent topic on SmokStak, which can be found on the Internet at: / smokstak.cgi. As ever, various individual started, commented on and concluded the following bulletin board thread.

Ok, how many of you have had this experience? You find an engine or tractor or some old piece of iron that you want and the old man who owns it won't give or sell it to you for a million bucks, even though it is sitting out in the junk pile. He says he'll get it running or restore it someday, but you go by the place five, 10, 15 years later and it is still in the same place, five inches deeper in the mud. The old man passed away and the estate is split up between the 10 kids, making it impossible to get. I understand that the guy wants to keep it because it is his dad's or something, but why let good iron go to waste if you're never going to touch it and someone else wants it? I guess I'll probably be the same way when I am 80. - Tanner

I have had my experiences, too. A guy with an F-M 6 HP tank-cooled and a few others that he just will not sell. I've tried to trade him some things, and I have become a good friend with him (I think it is because of my age and interest in the hobby), but still he won't sell.

One item in particular that is sitting outside is a Jaeger 2 HP engine and mixer that I want. This Jaeger is sunk in five inches of mud. GRRRR! Maybe some day I'll get them, but I look at it this way, I have enough time ahead of me to find more treasures, about 65 years or so. - Chase

I have a few engines that I do not show and are not on my web site. One is a scale salesman's model of a 1 HP that runs. Others are some scarce or rare engines that sit on my shelf in my garage covered up with an old T-shirt. I also have a 1929 Harley-Davison that I got running after 12 years. This was converted to a stationary engine.

Some guys want to buy these engines, but I keep saying no, I do not want to sell - but they keep on bugging me. One even had his wife ask me to sell it. I'm getting peeved and I don't even want to go to the same shows these guys go to. When I see them, I walk the other way. I had one guy offer me a Maytag for my '29 Harley-Davidson. Get a life. I do not want to sell them. - enginenut

Tanner, I have acquired engines, tractors and cars from people like you described. Most of these people have had that piece of iron for a long time, are used to seeing it and they don't like change. Visit them a few times over the course of a year, talk to them. If after this they seem friendly, visit with them more often. Take pictures of your other engines to show them what you intend to do if you were to acquire their engine. Be honest. I have acquired many items this way -and a few lasting friendships with some very interesting 'Grumpy Old Men.' - Pat

There's a guy in my area who has gas engines, steam engines and lots of other old stuff just rusting away in his yard. There's even a Russell steamer with a tree growing through the boiler.

I've known his family since I was a kid and he won't even let me look at the stuff. He explained his personal reasons to me. He also has been bothered by people who think money talks and will buy anything, and that REALLY makes him mad! I hate to see the stuff rot away, too, but I respect his reasons. Maybe some day the 'Grumpy Old Men' will give in. Just be patient and remember: there're 'Good ol' boys' out there, too. - Randy

If you want to see iron rusting away you should see the 52 steam traction engines in a field by Montgomery, Minn. The father of the fellow who owns them drove them in there many years ago and there they sit. The owner will not sell them or sell parts off them. Every year I go to the swap meet at LeSueur I go by them. - John

How about this? Pick out one that can be easily restored, and offer to restore it for him. If it's all there, unstuck, and the magneto still works, your costs would be minimal - sweat equity, if you will. This should get him interested. Who knows? He might feel obligated and sell you one. - Hal

I, too, have run onto an engine this way. A really nice and complete Elmira Force Field pump engine in a cement mixer. The fellow at least let me look at it, but it was in the back hedgerow completely enshrouded by sumac and brush. I advised him to pour some oil into the oiler and let it drip into the cylinder, but I'm sure this went in one ear and out the other. What people do with their 'junk' is their business, and you just have to forget about it. When it's an old engine, it's hard to forget. - Harry

I got both of my engines from older men who had them for a long time. I got to know them better through church, and while at first the answer to, 'May I buy the engine?' or whatever words I used, was, 'no.' It's amazing what time can do, and the end result was a 'Yes.' The engine had sat out in front of a barn of his for a very long time.

Eventually, we got to know each other. He sold it to me because I showed a genuine, not only financial, interest in it. I would fix it up and give it a good home where it would be used for its original purpose, it would be near him, he could watch our progress on it and we'd even bring it up to him to show him the end product and operate it with him there. And also because I am young and show a great interest in this old iron. In the end, I made a neat friend and acquired an engine that will forever belong to me. - Colt

Patrick, your advice is very good. I acquired an old Moline tractor by stopping and talking with an old man for nearly four years. At first I asked him if it was for sale. The answer? 'Do you see a for sale sign on it?' I left that alone for a while, but it kept bugging me to see it just sit there. So, from time to time I would just stop in when he was out and chat.

One day he asked me for my phone number in case he changed his mind. About a year later he called, and it took a chainsaw and a friend with a winch to get it out of the tree. He will be the first one to try and start it when it's restored. - Sandy

Listen up whippersnapper: You dang kids is becomin a bunch of whiners. I'm gonna become a grumpy old fart because of all yer cryin, and here I was just startin to enjoy my third childhood.

Did any one of you ever think there might be something more important than the almighty dollar? Ya spend all day bitchin 'cause I won't sell you my hunk of rusty old iron, but does one of you, who's so damn concerned about that hunk of iron sinking into the mud, offer to come around and jack it up outta the mud and put some timber under it?

Did you ever think an old fart just might still hear that iron run in his mind, and remember when it made an all day job into an hour's work? It's nice you want to take that hunk of junk and get it back to running, paint it up and haul it all over hells half acre showing it off, but don't one of you want to do a damn thing to preserve it till I decide to let you have it. Ya gotta prime the pump before you can fill the bucket. I ain't sellin' so you can go fix it up and sell it to somebody who wants it for a lawn ornament. - Franz

True, this world has many colors and shades of gray. I started in this hobby when I was 12 by restoring a Farmall F-12. Young and eager, light on patience and brains. That was then, now what I would like to share with you is how I got my steam engine:

When I was in grade school I took a picture of several engines including a steam engine at a local museum outdoor exhibition. I remember showing these pictures and telling everyone I was going to own one someday. Years later I began the restoration of my deceased grandfather's F-12 out of tribute to him. A local retired man who owned a repair shop helped my out by getting the head rebuilt. He invited me to go with him to a show with his steam engine and we became friends. He had LOTS of good stuff but would never sell or give it up. I bugged him often.

Years passed, some were spent together, others apart, as I went to college, began a family, etc. Once the kids get old enough, you can free up some time to do the things you want. I started to see him more often.

One year we went to a show and the steamer was in need of some maintenance. I volunteered to go over it and paint it. I bugged him a couple times and then left it, out of respect. One day he called and asked if I would still work on it, and would I come over and get it to work on it at my house. Why my house I wasn't sure, but why not? He followed me home, as to help me unload it and put it safely into my shop.

After all was put into place, he asked me if I had a checkbook. Yes, but why, I asked? He told me he knew I would take care of it and show it, as he did. Now write me a check, he said. I bought it under one condition; he would visit and help me with it, and go to the shows with me.

Every Sunday afternoon he would stop by for a cup of tea, check on the engine and be on his way. After Christmas that year my mother asked me to remove a trunk of my stuff I had left behind. Going through it, I found plenty of old memories. As the kids watched with excitement, I showed them my box camera and started to go through the pictures. Then I found them, those pictures I took in grade school. Looking carefully at them, I noticed one in particular. It was a picture of my steam engine.

The moral of this story is it is not the destination or ownership, but rather the journey and fellowship we experience. This is what our hobby is truly about. - Ron

SmokStak is an engine conversation bulletin board with over 15,000 messages on file and is part of the Old Engine series of web sites that started in 1995 as 'Harry's Old Engine.' Harry Matthews is a retired electronic engineer and gas engine collector from Oswego, N.Y., now residing in Sarasota, Fla.

'I bought it under one condition; he would visit and help me with it, and go to the shows with me.'


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